It’s every landlord’s worst nightmare: you discover the people you thought were trusted tenants are actually crooks using your property for illegal activity.
As a result, you face hefty repair bills, loss of income and a battle with your insurer. You may also find yourself at the centre of a police investigation.
Now, this is a worst-case scenario; most tenants are law-abiding, so there’s no need to panic.
But it’s still worth being on your guard for the signs that something isn’t quite right at your rental.
If you juggle managing a tenancy with a busy schedule, it’s easy to miss things or think that because you haven’t heard from your tenant, everything is running smoothly.
And if your property is in a quiet area where crime isn’t a significant problem, you might assume it’s not at risk.
But never say never, as a respectable frontage in a leafy street may provide the perfect cover for illegal activity, such as drug cultivation, production or dealing, people trafficking, gambling or subletting.
If you notice any of the signs below, don’t ignore them. Dig a little deeper to ensure everything that is going on at your rental is above board.
- Your tenant always has an excuse as to why you can’t access the property.
- A tenant has installed their own security system or CCTV.
- Neighbours complain about people coming and going at all hours and disruptive behaviour.
- An unusual odour such as a fruity, pungent smell (could indicate cannabis) or something akin to cat wee or rotten eggs (could indicate a meth lab).
- The electrical wiring has been tampered with. (To cultivate large quantities of cannabis indoors, criminals re-route the wiring to bypass the electricity meter.)
- Large patches of dead grass or stained/soiled concrete outside where chemicals have been dumped.
- The property is so sparsely furnished it’s hard to believe someone lives there. If this is the case, it could be an HQ for illicit activities.
- Blacked-out windows – what’s going on that they don’t want you to see?
- An excessive amount of rubbish or overflowing bins – a possible sign of overcrowding due to subletting.
How to protect your investment
- Never cut corners on tenant referencing or agree to a ‘cash in hand’ arrangement where you forgo a contract and accept a significant payment upfront to cover the rent.
- Introduce yourself to the neighbours and explain how they can get in touch if they have concerns.
- Have a comprehensive landlord insurance policy.
- Build a strong rapport with your tenants. Let them know that you’re proactive and do things by the book.
- Carry out regular property inspections.
- Use an experienced letting agent to manage the property for you.